Chattanooga police officer Karl Fields pleads the Fifth

photo Karl Fields testifies during a hearing for Cordalro Strickland in Judge Don Poole's courtroom on Friday.

"Did you take [the victim] to El Meson?

"Did you joke with another officer that videos in that case were YouTube material?"

"Did you tell her that you were physically attracted to her?"

"Did you ever wait outside her house and watch her?"

Karl Fields gave the same answer to each question attorney Brandy Spurgin asked:

"Upon advice from counsel, I respectfully assert my Fifth Amendment privilege and refuse to answer that question."

Fields invoked his constitutional right to refuse to answer more than 15 times during his first court appearance since allegations of inappropriate contact with a rape victim arose last month. The Chattanooga Police Department detective is on administrative leave pending the results of an internal affairs investigation. He's also under criminal investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

On Friday, Fields was called to testify at a hearing in the murder case of Cordalro Strickland, who is accused in the 2011 shooting death of Melvin "Brando" Fennell, 25. Fields was the lead investigator in the Fennell murder, a case that also involved the shooting of Calvin Garner, 24, and Mariah Stoudemire, 21.

Both sides convened in Judge Don Poole's courtroom to determine what, if anything, can be asked of Fields when the Strickland case goes to trial.

While Spurgin examined him, Fields, who was dressed in an argyle sweater, jacket and orange-striped bow tie, answered many questions about the Strickland investigation and about previous accusations of official misconduct. He acknowledged that he was under investigation, and said that he didn't know whether his office is considered a crime scene. But when Spurgin asked what prompted the investigation, Fields pleaded the Fifth.

At first Spurgin switched up her line of questioning. But when she circled back around to the rape investigation and Fields again chose to remain silent, she asked every question she had prepared for him about the case and was greeted with the same answer each time.

Fields' attorney, Jerry Tidwell, said he advised Fields not to answer those specific questions. Fields hasn't even been interviewed by the TBI or IA, Tidwell said.

"With all the stuff swirling around him, I just think it's best to wait until a later time," Tidwell said.

In two motions for dismissal filed Monday, Strickland's attorney Spurgin questions Fields' failure to take witnesses' names at the scene of the crime. She also addresses the allegations of the rape victim (whom the Times Free Press is not identifying in accordance with policy regarding the names of rape victims), complaints about Fields' handling of evidence in prior investigations and his 2006 conviction for DUI.

Those issues, Spurgin asserts, will cast doubt on the truthfulness of Fields' testimony when the case goes to trial in November. Spurgin claims that by invoking his right to silence, he will deny Strickland's right to a fair trial.

But Spurgin also found herself on the defense Friday. Assistant District Attorney General Cameron Williams filed a motion to exclude the details of the TBI and IA investigations from the Strickland trial.

"Detective Fields, if on the stand during trial, can testify about all the things he does during an investigation; but the defense doesn't get to question him about allegations of breach of the trust of the public, and official misconduct, then that's going to deny Mr. Strickland the right to confront his witnesses," Spurgin said.

Williams said he had no objection to the inclusion of questions about two past cases in which Fields was accused of mishandling evidence, and of questions about his DUI. But the most recent allegations that he made sexual advances to a rape victim whose case he was investigating are still just accusations, Williams said.

Williams pointed out that no administrative board has met to discuss Fields' case, and no findings have been issued.

"There's been no showing of a reasonable factual basis for those questions," Williams said.

Poole ruled that at trial Spurgin can ask Fields whether he is under investigation and about the previous cases she brought up, as well as about his DUI.

Specific questions about the rape investigation and the civil lawsuit filed by the victim, however, are out.

"I do not feel, however, that the circumstances of this lawsuit and the allegations contained in the lawsuit, I don't think that's provative of truthfulness, at all," Poole said.

Poole also said that Spurgin's motion to dismiss based on the fact that Fields didn't take witnesses' names had some merit. He said he would decide on a course of action, which could include dismissing the case or instructing the jury that certain information was missing from the investigation, at trial.

That's set to happen Nov. 4.

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at 423- 757-6347 or [email protected]

Previous news report: